Opinion: So long to critics of everyday use of te reo Māori


The BBC recently posted on Facebook footage from 1978 of the British public opposing the change from miles to kilometres. Their passionate reactions ranged from the fear of losing their national identity to someone who thought the change from miles to kilometres would mean using more petrol while driving their car.

Forty years later, the change didn’t cause the world to end, and we can look back at this hilarious footage and understand that it’s part of the human condition to overreact to a small change in society and that these changes can eventually become normalised and accepted over time.

I can’t wait for the day that te reo Māori, one of our country’s official languages, can be used in our news­papers and frequently spoken on mainstream television without constant complaints from the few people who refuse to accept our indigenous language is what makes Aotearoa special.

Recently, many corporations, major television networks and other mainstream media have made a commitment to normalise te reo Māori by using the language in their publications, news bulletins and work communications. Some have even made a strong stand against the few who are incensed by seeing and hearing te reo used in everyday life.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority, with its recent decision to no longer take complaints from people about the use of te reo Māori on air and on screen, has made it clear it has zero tolerance for those not willing to embrace our indigenous language.

Since June 2020, it has received 27 enquiries about the language’s use – five times as many as in the same period previously. Two of these resulted in formal complaints. One of the recent complaints about the use of te reo in a number of TVNZ broadcasts claimed it was “discriminatory towards non-Māori-speaking New Zealanders and divisive”.

Broadcasting Standards Authority chief executive Glen Scanlon says these types of complaints have no basis, that the use of te reo is up to the networks and does not breach broadcasting standards, and that te reo is “enshrined” as one of our national languages.
This welcome stance follows Vodafone chief executive Jason Paris’ recent response to a complaint from a woman named Catherine who took offence at the company using “Aotearoa” in its communications, so was moving to Spark. Paris needed only two Māori words to convey just how seriously he took her complaint. “Haere rā, Catherine” was his response. I’m sure she had to look up the meaning of haere rā to find out the head of one of our major corporations told her “goodbye”.

I applaud these major Pākehā institutions that have become allies to the cause and are not tolerating the people who refuse to accept the importance of te reo Māori. We have certainly come a long way. I remember a time in my journalism career when it was a struggle to include any te reo in my stories, despite how much I fought with my editors. Also, there was resistance in newsrooms to add the important macrons to Māori words, because the production systems at that time didn’t allow it.

Now, those very same publications are embracing the language and macron use is the norm. But the struggle goes back even further, to the days when our Māori grandparents were strapped for speaking their language at school, to the protests and lobbying in the 80s to recognise te reo Māori as a taonga, an official language of this country, and acknowledgement from the Government that it was obliged to protect the language under the Treaty of Waitangi.

We’ve always had people opposing this progression. It comes with the struggle. But I hope that in 40 years’ time, as with the BBC archival footage, we will look on those who objected to the everyday use of te reo as relics of the past.

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